Campus teams with Microsoft to test software

New computer software and an agreement between East Carolina University and the Microsoft Corp. will improve communication between faculty and students and affect the way students receive assignments and submit work to professors.

ECU officials said today (March 20) that the campus will become the first university in the United States to implement Microsoft Exchange 5.0 to serve all of its students, faculty and staff. In turn, Microsoft says it expects the project to serve as a test site for improving the company’s products in the higher-education community. It is a cooperative project between the two organizations. Ernest Marshburn, associate director for computing and information systems at ECU, described the project as a partnership. He said ECU will get software not available to the public and provide feedback about the features that are appropriate to an educational setting.

“We are more than a beta test site,” he added. “We will help Microsoft in designing a system that works well in an educational environment and become a model for other universities.”

Jim Ptaszynski, the strategic relations manager in the higher education group at Microsoft, said his company appreciates ECU’s efforts to improve communications across campus.

“By working closely with East Carolina University, Microsoft hopes to learn how to better serve the electronic communication needs within the higher education community,” he said.

Before the agreement with Microsoft, ECU provided software to staff and faculty that was designed primarily as a stand-alone e-mail system. Faculty and staff also used a variety of other e-mail products. Microsoft’s Exchange 5.0 performs electronic communication functions such as sending and receiving e-mail and maintaining interactive calendars while integrating these features with the Internet, the Intranet and other internal networks. ECU this month began the installation of the software on its state-of-the-art fiber optic network of computers that link faculty and staff offices, classrooms, laboratories and student residence halls. In addition to Exchange, Microsoft NT will be installed on campus computer servers.

The goal, according to Richard Ringeisen, vice chancellor for academic affairs, is to increase and strengthen campus interaction, especially between university faculty and their students. He said ECU looked at a variety of electronic messaging products in search of something that permits “enterprise-wide communications.”

The benefits of such a system will enable students to review the office schedules of faculty, request appointments, receive on-line course assignments, and submit course work to professors. Furthermore, the Microsoft product is expected to help resolve the problems faced by “nomadic users” — those who routinely change locations between offices, classrooms and residence halls.

The “nomadic use” problem was solved using the World Wide Web. This means that faculty, staff and student can access the ECU Exchange through almost any computer that is equipped for browsing the Internet and the Web. Underlying ECU’s decision to use the new software throughout the campus is “the shared belief that the integration of enterprise-wide messaging technology into higher education is an urgent priority,” said Richard Brown, vice chancellor for Administration and Finance.